After last night’s 12-0 domination of a bruised and battered Toronto Blue Jays baseball club, coupled with a New York Yankees loss at the hands of the Tampa Bay Rays, the Baltimore Orioles, on this September 5th morning of 2012, find themselves tied for first place in the American League East Division standings. I mention today’s date for two reasons: 1) To demonstrate how late in Major League Baseball regular season schedule it is; and 2) To remind us all that this is not an April Fool’s prank.

For further evidence, please see the AL East standings as collected by multiple sources.

MLB.com:

ESPN.com:

CoolStandings.com:

These combine to do this:

It’s easy to look at the standings, and then the run differentials, and come to the conclusion that the Baltimore Orioles are in the position that they are based on luck and randomization. However, it’s difficult for us as humans to believe that there is no rhyme and reason for particular outcomes. We sometimes imagine fictions based around fate and destiny, but in baseball circles we’re more likely to find some piece of data and shape it to fit our narrative.

So, we think about the Baltimore lineup, and we think about Nick Markakis, Adam Jones, J.J. Hardy and Matt Wieters, and we think that they’re all good players. Then, we come to the conclusion that the team’s offense must offer us an explanation, but when we go to Fangraphs and check their overall offensive numbers we see that as a team, the Orioles are decidedly below average. In fact, their lineup has offered below average production at the plate, on the bases and even in the field.

Then we remember all the good things that have been said about the team’s bullpen this year, and so maybe the Orioles pitching can explain their place in the standings, but then you learn that while the relief corps, led by Dirty Jim Johnson, has been exceptional this season, the team’s starting pitchers have put together a team ERA that falls between the starting pitchers on the Chicago Cubs and Houston Astros. Even according to FIP, Baltimore starters rank as the eighth worst in the league.

Then, we might wander over to Baseball Reference and look at the Orioles team page to discover that they’re a remarkable 12-2 in extra inning games, and they hold a 24-7 record in one run games. While these stand out numbers can partly be explained by the team’s impressive bullpen, there’s an astronomical amount of luck that must be involved to attain almost a third of your wins via one run victories.

However, this isn’t meant to drown out a fun story. In fact, our understanding of what’s happening here should make us more appreciative. The Baltimore Orioles are destroying probabilities and likelihoods, and have somehow found themselves atop what many have considered for years to be the most difficult division in baseball. Their progress this year is largely unexplainable, and history suggests that it isn’t sustainable. In fact, history would’ve suggested that it wasn’t sustainable to this point in the season either. However, these are the things that make baseball fun.

Sort of like word clouds from the Baltimore Orioles blog, Camden Chat:

And The Rest

The Oakland Athletics play 17 of their next 20 games on the road. [San Francisco Chronicle]

To clinch the first overall pick in the 2013 Rule IV Draft, the Houston Astros have a reverse magic number of 18. [Draft Derby Standings]

The Kenny Williams recipe for success: will, intellect and talent. [MLB.com]

Bill James will be taking an expanded role with the Boston Red Sox. [Boston Herald]

Toronto Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista had successful wrist surgery. [MLB Daily Dish]

Chipper Jones, loyalty and the two way street. [Baseball Prospectus]

Junichi Tazawa is a high leverage reliever. [The Providence Journal]

An interview with Baseball America’s Minor League Player of the Year Wil Myers. [Fangraphs]

Tom Tango on the Fangraphs Power Rankings and power rankings in general. [The Book Blog]

David Wright would like to remain a member of the New York Mets, but does the team owe him a big contract? [CBS Sports]

Keith Hernandez and a going, going, gone mustache. [New York Times]

Milwaukee Brewers third baseman Aramis Ramirez strikes out swinging without even swinging. [Big League Stew]

Roger Clemens may have a familiar face catching his next start for the Sugar Land Skeeters. [Deadspin]